Baltimore Orioles Roster Review: Bullpen
The Orioles bullpen was, by all accounts, much improved over 2011. That’s not saying too much, but I think it’s best if we let these cherry-picked statistics do the talking:
Team ERA (MLB) – 5th (3.00)
Team fWAR (MLB) – 5th (6.4)
Team WHIP (MLB) – 5th (1.21)
Team WPA (MLB) – 1st (13.86)
Team Value (MLB) – 5th ($28.8M)
The last two here tell a compelling story. The O’s bullpen increased the team’s win probability more than any other bullpen in Major League Baseball, and it wasn’t even particularly close (the Rangers came in second with 8). Finally, the O’s bullpen provided $28,800,000 of value to the team. This figure is calculated by using fWAR, but it is a significant value since O’s bullpen arms were only paid (roughly) $16,500,000 this season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the individuals performed.
Luis Ayala would probably prefer to forget 2008 – 2010. Prior to 2008 Ayala was a dominant reliever pitching to ERAs between 2.66 and 3.19 during that time. In 2008 he pitched to a 5.71 ERA for 2 different teams, followed by a 5.63 ERA in ’09. After spending all of 2010 in the minors Ayala resurfaced in 2011 with the New York Yankees pitching to a stellar 2.09 ERA over 56.0 innings.
Ayala the Oriole posted a 2.64 ERA over 75 innings and did so in a most pedestrian way. Looking through Ayala’s numbers leaves you shaking your head trying to figure out how exactly he put up such spectacular numbers without standing out in any of the peripheral stats you might suspect. In fact, the only notable departure from his earlier career is in his mix of pitches. 2012 Ayala throws fewer Fastballs and Sliders, incorporating more Cutters and Changeups into his repertoire. Expect Ayala’s 2013 option to be picked up, and pencil him in for another 60+ innings next season.
If you’ve read Moneyball then I’m sure you’re familiar with the Chad Bradford anecdote, wherein Billy Beane acquires Bradford because his unique pitching style was undervalued by the rest of baseball.
Darren O’Day bounced around the AL West between LA-Anaheim and Texas earlier in his career before coming to Baltimore hoping for some good ole mean reversion. His 30.4% HR rate normalized to 8.2% this season, which helps when over 40% of balls in play are flyballs. Additionally O’Day posted a career low walk rate helping him to put up a sparkling 2.28 ERA in 67 innings. O’Day will hit arbitration for the third time this offseason, and I suspect the O’s might make an effort to sign O’Day beyond next season as well.
For $5.8 Million you can have Kevin Gregg pitch 43.2 innings of 4.95 ERA ball, post a negative WAR, and generally break your heart each time he takes the mound. I won’t go into his stats much because we don’t really need to re-live them, but he’s worth noting because he cost the Orioles a significant amount of money and labored through nearly 45 innings before the O’s cut ties.
I have to admit that Troy Patton has been one of my favorite Orioles ever since he was acquired in the trade that sent Miguel Tejada to Houston. At Norfolk last season Patton impressed with a 1.83 ERA which prompted a midseason call-up to the big club. In 30 innings he continued to pitch well with an ERA of 3 and a FIP suggesting he might have been better than that.
In 2012 Patton utilized a 4 pitch mix consisting primarily of a 2-Seam Fastball/Sinker, Slider, Curveball, and Changeup. Patton throws his Fastball/Sinker and Slider nearly 85% of the time, but this season flashed a truly great Curveball to go along with them. In fact, nobody got a single hit against Patton’s Curveball this season.
Patton will enter arbitration for the first time this offseason and should be a fixture of the Oriole bullpen for a long time to come. If he continues to develop his pitches and improve year over year as he has to this point in his career he’s going to be a dominant member of the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
In 2006 a former position player took the mound 11 times, pitched 13 innings, and struck out 15.23 batters per 9 innings in Rookie ball. Fast forward 6 years and Strop dazzled Oriole fans by pitching the 8th inning for most of the season setting up Jim Johnson. Unfortunately Strop lost some of his control and walked over 5 batters per 9 innings this season. He ended up striking out only 1.57 batters for every walk, something that doesn’t exactly foretell future success.
Pedro strop’s 2.44 ERA is mainly a function of his ability to limit HRs with only 2 leaving the ballpark in his 66.1 IP. It’s highly unlikely that Strop can limit home runs to this degree moving forward, so he’ll need to limit walks and improve his strikeout rate if he wants to be a back-end bullpen option moving forward.
Speaking of guys who get outs late in games despite not having strikeout stuff, Jim Johnson recorded 51 saves and was a big reason for the O’s impressive record in close games. Johnson only struck out 5.37 batters per 9 innings, but still managed to be effective as a result of his impressive ground ball ratio and low home run rate.
Here’s the thing about Jim Johnson. He’s great. We love him. The problem is that he has been fairly lucky the past two seasons (.268 BABIP in ’11, .251 in ’12) despite getting 60+% ground balls which naturally have higher BABIPs to begin with. Since Johnson doesn’t have strikeout stuff, mean reversion in his BABIP would have an ugly impact on his ERA.
Johnson will go through arbitration for the 3rd time this offseason, and is under team control for 2014 as well. Whether the O’s keep him after that is a discussion for another time, but the peripherals don’t exactly make me giddy about the idea of relying on Johnson late in games.
I hate to end on a sour note but I think it’s important for O’s fans to understand what could happen, or in the case of Strop what has already begun happening, to the back-end of our bullpen. We already know that reliever performance can be volatile, so it’s important to identify some factors that might predict such volatility.
I’ll be writing a follow-up post to discuss what this all means for the O’s 2013 bullpen, and taking a shot in the dark at predicting who will be in it next season.
Note: Discussion of this post can be found here.